It was a plaintive voice. From someone who knows they are dying, but whose family can’t accept the fact.
Perhaps that’s your situation – when you are 60+, because we have lived more years than we are probably going to live, it does happen that people start to face the end.
Or it’s more likely your parents who might be challenged with this – if you are in your 60s or over, your parents are likely in their 80s and having to come to terms with being not just in the afternoon of their lives, but in the evening, or even twilight.
Whatever your situation, let’s face it, a family letting go of a loved one is never easy. No one actively wants someone they love to die (unless perhaps they are in such pain and suffering that the kindest thing would be if they were actually to die).
But sadly, the question of how a family needs to let go of one of their members is actually quite common.
It was asked of me this week by someone wanting to join our end of life conversation Facebook group, and then it came up again in one of our Facilitator Training modules.
You can hear the despair in the tone of the question, “How can I get my family to let me go?” It might be voiced similarly as “I know I’m dying but my family won’t accept it.”
Or in the words of my neighbour who came home after being taken to hospital for the umpteenth time, “I wish they could just let me die.” She’s ready – aged 88, having had a full and happy life, her body slowly deteriorating, and she’s had enough.
But even if you are like my neighbour, or the person posing this question, it’s not always so easy for family members, or friends.
Here are 3, I hope helpful, tips:
Accept that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. However, you can make the drink look very inviting. That means being able to talk openly and naturally about death, to refer to “when I’m gone,” and to have accepted it (as much as you can) yourself.
When a family member or friend says something like, “Oh, don’t be silly. You’ll be around for ages yet,” or, “You’ll get better, don’t worry,” or, “Don’t be so morbid, talking like that,” challenge them kindly, but firmly.
If you know you are dying, but your loved ones are not facing up to it, then a gentle but firm way to help them begin to accept it (and therefore let you go) is to have an honest conversation. And that starts with you taking the lead and maybe saying something like, “Look, I have a terminal illness. There will come a point when it takes over, and I won’t be here. That’s just a fact.”
Or, taking their hand in yours, look them in the eyes (if you can) and let them know with compassion that you realise what is happening to you, and therefore to them; that it is not ideal, but that you are accepting it as your time. Ask them to try to accept it with you so your last weeks/days together can be honest, loving and full of affection.
This is important for when you will not be able to speak for yourself. You will very likely get treatment to prolong your life (even if you have a terminal illness) unless you have stated clearly that you don’t want this; discussed it with the family and your medical team; and even have it written down.
Research has shown, for instance, that those who have documented the fact that their preference is to die at home are more likely to have this happen, than those who haven’t written anything down about this.
Do you think your family will have a hard time letting you go when the time comes? Are you having a hard time letting go of your parents? How important is this question, in your opinion?